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Health & Wellness

7 signs your dog is depressed and how to help them feel better

Dogs experience emotions just like us.

You can spot a happy dog from a mile away. Think: perky ears, wagging tail and paws that can’t seem to stay on the ground — dogs aren’t coy about flaunting their joy. But, when your pup seems to have a little less pep in their step, it can be challenging to know what to do.

“Dogs appear to experience emotions similar to human emotions of happiness and sadness,” Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, says.

Sometimes, they experience a prolonged sadness that can’t be mended with an extra treat or belly rubs. Here’s everything you need to know about depression in dogs so your canine companion can get back to feeling their best.

Do dogs get depressed?

Yes, dogs can experience depression. “It’s hard to know if it’s exactly the same as in humans since dogs can’t communicate what they feel in words, but there are many similarities,” Dr. Singler explains.

Scientists say that through brain imaging and measured hormone levels, we know dogs experience a range of emotions, including happiness, sadness, fear and anxiety.  

The difference between a dog feeling sad and being depressed is the length of time and severity of the symptoms. And instead of using words, their body language can tell us how they’re feeling.

What causes depression in dogs?

Depression in dogs is typically situational. That means there has been a major life change that’s upsetting your pup. Common examples include:

  • The loss of a family member, which can be two-or four-legged
  • The addition of a new family member
  • Moving to a new home
  • A routine change

Dogs might experience seasonal depression, too. “Some dogs may mirror changes their parent is experiencing,” Dr. Singler shares. “It’s also possible that reduced available daylight can trigger the same adjustments seen in humans.”

It's believed that anxiety-prone pups and senior dogs may be more likely to experience depression.

Can dogs get postpartum depression?

According to Dr. Singler, there’s no evidence that pups experience postpartum like what humans can experience.

“Some dogs experience anxiety after they have puppies, especially if they're already prone to anxiety or if they are first-time moms,” Dr. Singler says. This could impact the puppies’ care or indicate that she’s having a medical issue. So, it’s important to contact your veterinarian right away if you notice any concerning behavior.

RELATED: How to stop your dog from barking – if you should at all

Signs of depression in dogs

“We can tell from their body language that dogs are happy or excited in certain situations and that they're sad or depressed in other circumstances,” Dr. Singler says. Facial expressions, changes in or lack of tail wagging and body posture can all clue you into how your dog is feeling.

Other signs of depression in dogs include:

  • Decreased activity
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleeping more or less
  • Changes in social habits
  • Spending time in different areas of the house
  • Not wanting to do the things they usually enjoy

These symptoms aren’t just for depression; they can accompany a handful of medical conditions. So, if you notice these changes or think your dog might be depressed, visit your veterinarian for a checkup.

How can I help my dog with depression?

First, see your vet to rule out any medical conditions that could be causing the depression. Then, you can get to work at home, lifting your pup’s spirits.

Spending quality time with your dog is exactly what the doctor orders for depression in dogs, Dr. Singler shares. Encourage your dog to do the activities they typically love, get active and stick to a routine they know.

When they choose to participate, reward your dog with their favorite treat and offer up physical and verbal praise.

Some pups need a little more help getting back to their happy self. When quality time isn’t doing the trick, talk to your veterinarian about medications that could help.

Remember, we still don’t know much about emotions in pets. “More and more studies are being done to understand dogs’ emotions from a scientific perspective,” Dr. Singler explains. “Hopefully, they will help us learn more about how dogs experience the world and how we can help them.”

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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